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The discussion on the state of the art of scientific publications in Latin American countries generally restricts itself to its supposedly low visibility. This affirmation is generally conditioned to the exclusive use of large international databases, mainly of the USA and Europe, which include thousands of scientific publications that have marginalized a large part of the scientific literature produced in peripheral countries. Given this fact of low visibility, it became imperative for some Latin American countries, beginning in the 90s (20th Century), to develop their own mechanisms of projection of the results of their own scientific production. The experiences constitute an example for countries that, having significant scientific production, still do not have the means to facilitate access to local scientific publications. Although Bolivia still remains distant from these initiatives, a series of studies were identified that show the existence of a tradition of publication in scientific magazines and interest in their visibility, on a local and international level, which demands attention to the most adequate mechanisms in order to carry this out.
The scandal of the “biotechnology evangelist” erupted in Korea at the beginning of the new year: a commission from Seoul National University announced that it had proof that Dr Woo Suk Hwang, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on cloning by nucleus transfer, had manipulated the data concerning experiments in human cell cloning and the creation of eleven lines of stem cells from human embryos published in two different articles in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005.
The problem of accessing data is as old as science itself. Complete popularisation of scientific data (of a theoretical model), and even more so of the methods and materials used during an experimental process and of the empirical data amassed, has always been considered an essential part of the process of authentication, duplication and filing of scientific knowledge. It is also true, however, that this theory has always been a complex riddle with no simple solution. Strangely enough, in today's era of instant communication, the challenge of information access seems to be facing new, daunting obstacles, some of which have the same name and characteristics they had 100 or 300 years ago, but which have been intensified by new dimensions and unexpected corollaries. Others have a new core, an example being, the problem related to disclosure, which implies the (more or less) complete popularisation of the data, procedures, and tools used during research. This is a subject which, although ancient in form, has recently taken on new, far-reaching implications. The scientific community now has to face a problem which originated, first, with the sequencing of the human genome and, later, with that of certain types of rice; a problem which could redefine certain aspects of the epistemological practice and nature of science.
Free information works. In the sense that Open Access Journals, scientific journals which can be accessed at no cost, thereby guaranteeing free access to everyone, are at the same time able to guarantee the same quality as or even better than- that of traditional journals, which can only be read by those willing to pay a price, be it the cover price or a subscription.
There is a substantial divergence between the standards of integrity associated with "good science" and the problems imposed by the conflict of interest on research, specially in the biomedical field. There are at least as many ways in which information may be altered and the production of new scientific knowledge may be affected as there are links that can be established between researchers, private companies, and editors and staff of the specialized press. The pressures resulting from this high number of connections can affect all stages of research, from trial design to data analysis, from result publishing and dissemination to who will be the author of the articles.
On September 15, 2001, a joint editorial simultaneously published in thirteen medical journals, pointed an accusing finger at the increasing pressures coming from the pharmaceutical industry. During past decades, a key role in trial design and conduct was played by independent clinical investigators working in academic medical centres. They were also able to vouchsafe the quality of their research, which might not, however, be the case in the future.
A ghost is wandering around the web: it is called open access, a proposal to modify the circulation system of scientific information which has landed on the sacred soil of scientific literature. The circulation system of scientific magazines has recently started faltering, not because this instrument is no longer a guarantee of quality, but rather for economic reasons. In countries such as Great Britain, as shown in the following chart, the past twenty years have seen a dramatic increase in subscription fees, exceeding by far the prices of other publishing products and the average inflation rate. The same trend applies to the United States.
To appreciate what a huge difference there is between the author of a peerreviewed journal article and just about any other kind of author we need only remind ourselves why universities have their "publish or perish" policy: aside from imparting existing knowledge to students through teaching, the work of a university scholar or scientist is devoted to creating new knowledge for other scholars and scientists to use, apply, and build upon, for the benefit of us all. Creating new knowledge is called "research", and its active use and application are called "research impact". Researchers are encouraged, indeed required, to publish their findings because that is the only way to make their research accessible to and usable by other researchers. It is the only way for research to generate further research. Not publishing it means no access to it by other researchers, and no access means no impact in which case the research may as well not have done in the first place.
In the midst of a debate on access to information, the World Health Organization and the FAO have decided to develop a strategy to guarantee the right of poor countries to have free access to scientific publications. This right is often denied, mainly because of high subscription costs. For this reason, universities and research centres in southern countries must forego buying magazines, which are a valuable instrument for updating, and exchanging information on research and scientific issues. This choice has been made in an historical period when the industrialized world is marked by a knowledge-based economy.
Some recent events have brought to the attention of the general public the issue of free access to scientific information. On many occasions basic scientific information has been said to be constantly available to scientists. In truth, a group of scientists (those who live in the developing countries) have long remained on the fringes of the international research community and in part still are, mainly because of the existing difficulties in accessing scientific publications. However, this fact has never been as blatant as it was with the Human Genome Project. Indeed, the project saw an attempt to conceal and privatize the results of advanced basic research. On that occasion, the fear of a private exploitation of scientific results became a real threat.